Elephants and AZA Accreditation

As wild populations of elephants continue to decline in Africa and Asia, AZA accredited zoos are playing a vital role as stewards of an important part of the world’s heritage. While supporting conservation programs in the wild, AZA institutions are also caring for 147 African and 141 Asian elephants in 62 AZA-accredited institutions. These institutions are dedicated to caring for these animals in a humane and science-based manner which supports AZA's strong commitment to high standards of animal care and management.

This commitment is personified by the many professional zookeepers and veterinarians that dedicate their careers to the care of these magnificent animals.  AZA-accredited zoos that care for elephants must meet or exceed AZA’s rigorous standards for elephant care, management, and conservation. Management plans that ensure superior care for each elephant must be created and maintained to address factors such that their social, behavioral, psychological, and physical needs are met.

Rigorous Elephant Accreditation Standards

AZA-accredited zoos are required to meet or exceed the demanding Standards for Elephant Management and Care that AZA developed in cooperation with animal welfare advocates, field researchers, and elephant experts. Enforced by the AZA Accreditation Commission, these standards are more rigorous than those of the United States Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) or state regulatory agencies. AZA continuously reviews and updates these standards to ensure that the best care, management, and conservation practices are incorporated including:

  • Providing on-site professional veterinary and animal care services to ensure superior animal health, and excellent animal husbandry and welfare.
  • Meeting their nutrition needs.
  • Providing daily enrichment to elicit social, behavioral, psychological and physical stimulation.
  • Establishing expert animal management techniques to sustain a healthy and genetically diverse ex situ population.

Elephant Care Staff Expertise

Elephant care staff at AZA-accredited institutions must be highly trained and all Elephant Program Managers at AZA-accredited zoos are required to pass the AZA Principles of Elephant Management professional training course. At present, 382 full-time employees (FTEs) care for the 284 elephants that live in 79 AZA-accredited zoos. These statistics illustrate that there is well more than one full-time zookeeper for each elephant. Each FTE represents an average of 11.3 years of experience working with elephants, which taken together represents over 3,880 years of current elephant expertise.

Private Elephant Ranches and Accredited Zoos Are Different

Non-accredited zoos and private elephant ranches or sanctuaries are places where elephants live with assistance from people who provide food, water, care, and shelter but are not required to meet the rigorous AZA Standards for Elephant Management and Care. It is a common misconception that private elephant ranches provide “freedom,” however while they often provide large acreage, the management of all ex situ elephant populations require barriers and fencing. AZA-accredited zoos that care for elephants differ from the private elephant ranches in several important ways:  

  • AZA-accredited zoos are open to the public and are committed to helping people learn about elephants, the conservation issues threatening them, and the ways in which they can take action to protect them through a plethora of education programs and exhibits. Private elephant ranches are just that, private, and generally closed to the public.
  • AZA-accredited zoos provide extensive support to a variety of international conservation and research programs that help elephants in Africa and Asia. Private elephant ranches do not provide meaningful support for elephant conservation.
  • AZA-accredited zoos have carefully planned elephant breeding programs, which not only help build the North American herd, but also provide scientific knowledge to assist in situ populations. Private ranches do not conduct meaningful scientific study or breeding programs.

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